It’s a rare thing to come across fellow grapplers here on WordPress, so it was a treat meeting someone like Betsy, who shares her exploits on the mats in a much more entertaining way than I can.
So instead of story time, I figured I’d go with something truer to my style, as demonstrated in my Lessons Learned From Climbing post.
Without further ado, let’s go ahead and explore the lessons I’ve learned from my seven odd years I’ve spent grappling.
1. You just gotta show up
Boom. Mic drop. Post over. This is the best lesson I’ve gleaned from my entire grappling career. You want to get better? All you need to do is to just. Show. Up.
Ask me what lesson I learned three years back. Actually, don’t. Because I have no idea. I can’t even remember what moves we practised last month. But all those classes are now a part of me, making me the grappler that I am.
Is there a chance we might practise the same moves in future classes? Definitely. Is that a waste of time? Definitely not.
Regardless of how well you do, or how much of a clueless knob you feel like sometimes, you just need to go home and get ready to do the same thing the next day, and the day after that. And the next.
How does this relate to life? People say that only perfect practice makes perfect. I say screw perfection. You can’t go wrong by constantly filling up a blank page, or picking up your guitar, or going to the gym.
2. Life is a marathon
Here are some popular BJJ platitudes for you:
- It’s not about who’s best. It’s about who’s left.
- A black belt is just a white belt who never quit.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Yeah, I’m just going to let these cheesy-but-true sayings speak for themselves. Basically, look at things in the long run (heh).
How does this relate to life? It doesn’t matter how well you run mile five in a hundred-mile race. You can even walk the entire way if that means you get to cross the finish line.
3. You can’t fake mat time
The thing I love most about jiu-jitsu is that no matter what colour your belt is, there’s no hiding your competence (or lack of) the moment you exchange grips with your opponents. Unlike a fake CV, you can’t talk yourself up and expect to get away with it.
I’ve had the pleasure of sparring with a ton of people from all over the world, and all I can say is this: the only people I can handle are the ones who’ve trained less than me.
This means that there’s no other way to learn the craft other than to actually do it. You have to spar, drill, show up.
How does this relate to life? Don’t spend more time trying to appear better than you actually are. Don’t be a fake guru teaching people to earn money when you can’t even pay rent. You can’t fake competence in the long run.
4. There are always risks in life
I’ve injured myself so often from martial arts that I feel grateful after finishing a class relatively unscathed.
I’ve separated both shoulders and my ribs, broken a toe, torn my abdominal wall, compressed my spine—and that’s considered mild compared to the gnarly injuries my buddies have gone through.
Which is why people are quick to judge when they see me right back on the mats once I heal. “You’re asking for it,” they say. “It’s so dangerous.”
Well, you know what’s also dangerous? Life. I’ve broken my hand chasing my sister around a table as a kid. I also broke my wrist falling in the bathroom.
We’re subject to risks the moment we’re born. Skateboarding may be dangerous, but so is driving. You could follow all safety precautions and still get mangled by a drunk driver. So don’t listen to the naysayers when they call you stupid for wanting to pursue a sport you like or a business venture you believe in.
How does this relate to life? You have as much risk of losing your livelihood with a day job compared to owning a business. But don’t quote me on that. I’m not a statistician.
5. Learning is not linear
Even after seven years of this pursuit (excluding five extra years of muay thai), I still feel like an alien commandeering a meat vehicle sometimes. My reflexes are dodgy, and my limbs move in ways I don’t want them to.
On the flip side, I’ve also assimilated some fancy abilities into muscle memory. I don’t know how I acquired them. For instance, whenever someone tries to crush me but leans too far across, I’m able to detect that shift and tip them over.
It’s like cycling, you know? First you go through a period of not knowing what you’re doing. And then one day you realise that you can balance on two wheels. Was it the training wheels that helped? Was it your dad pushing you? Who knows?
All that matters is that you didn’t know how to do it before. And the next moment, you could.
How does this relate to life? You won’t know if that paragraph you write today would turn into a novel, or if the weights you’re lifting will even contribute to muscle building. But trust in the process and one day, you’ll just ‘get it’. Don’t quote me on that either. I’m not a scientist.
6. Life is unfair
I weigh 65 kilos (140 lbs) soaking wet. So it’s not uncommon for me to be the smallest guy in the gym (refer to Phuket pic above).
And I can tell you that it sucks having to wrestle bigger guys all the time. I just want a fair fight for once, you know? But you know what? That’s life. And you know what else? What I lack in mass, I make up for in cardio.
That’s why I’ve learned to play a loose game against bigger guys, and not try to go head-to-head with them. I duck under their legs, hop from side to side, keep them moving. I don’t try to hold them down, because they’ll just benchpress me off like a soggy, whiny barbell. Instead, I try to funnel them towards their weaknesses, which is horizontal aerobic dancing.
You know what that’s taught me? It’s that life is unfair, yes, and I may not be stronger than most of my opponents. But it’s also unfair—in my favour—that the bigger guys need more oxygen for their muscles. It’s all about how we choose to look at it.
But what if I meet someone who’s stronger and has more cardio than me? Well, like I said, life’s unfair.
How does this relate to life? If life were truly fair, we’d be living a communist’s wet dream. Are you a communist? Didn’t think so.
In the end, learning is optional
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this post is that everything in life has the ability to teach us something. It’s whether or not we want to learn from them. Maybe that’s why I enjoy collecting hobbies. Not because I like doing more things, but because I want to know more about myself.
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